A "dumb" phone selling for smartphone money, the Sony Ericsson Mix Walkman's one defence is that it's all about the music, not apps and Angry Birds. However, this line of argument doesn't get it very far.
There's no bundled microSD card and the internal memory only offers enough storage for one album. Memory is expandable - there's a microSD slot under the battery - but fresh out of its packaging, it's pretty much useless as a music player.
Undeterred, we loaded up a microSD card with tunes to see if its software is much cop. Press the Walkman button on the phone's top and you're taken directly to the media player. It uses the corner shortcut layout seen throughout the interface. These take you to your library, show the current playlist (or album), and give you access to the Zap and Karaoke functions.
Zappin is Sony's own take on a song preview mode. This plays you either a clip of each song lasting just a few seconds or around 15 seconds, skipping to the next afterwards unless you press the Zappin button up top. It's a neat enough idea, but the execution completely puts us off using it. "Zapping in", "Zapping out" and moving between tracks are all accompanied by whoosing or spoken sound effects. Maybe the kids will enjoy it, but we find it utterly tasteless and a bit embarrassing.
The Karaoke feature is sure to appeal to a similarly niche audience, but at least it doesn't limit its appeal through its technique. It effectively removes the central channel, where lead vocals tend to be mixed, in order to turn normal tracks into backing tracks. It'll also display lyrics if they've been added to your MP3s. Basic ID3 tagging won't do this. It works pretty well.
These secondary features are ones you'll find in Sony's dedicated MP3 players, but these are richer in those dedicated players. There's no pitch altering, no speed changing here - hardly essential but handy if you do want to get your Karaoke on. Our personal highlight of Sony Walkman's partly-superfluous features is SenseMe. This scans through your music and splits it into moods, effectively making playlists for you. There's an option for this within the Mix's music player, but it doesn't split up tracks for you like the NWZ-A866 will. Instead you have to get your computer to do that for you, before syncing the music to your phone. Who would have thought an MP3 player would have more power than a phone these days?
Once stocked with albums, the Mix offers a perfectly decent music experience. Navigation's fine, cover art displays and the audio output quality is solid if unremarkable. However, when its extra features aren't worth shouting about, and there's not a full complement of playback buttons, its musical ability won't trounce any other half-decent £80-100 phone with a 3.5mm headphone jack. The supplied MH140 earphones are well above average for a bundled pair, though, offering decent bass and clarity. But they leak sound, offer no isolation and aren't as comfortable as an IEM-style pair - in our opinion.
Whatever way you look at it - not a web browsing star
The browsing experience is more notable, but not for a good reason. There are two separate web browsers pre-installed - Sony Ericsson's own stab and Opera Mini, probably the most popular "third party" phone browser. The interface of each is good enough, but hampered by a number of technical limitations. The screen, at 240x400 pixels and 155dpi, is very low-res, there's no multi-touch support and without 3G connectivity, it's too slow to load full web pages unless you're on a Wi-Fi connection.